Syrian refugee children stand next to their family tents at a Syrian refugee camp in the town of Bar Elias, in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, April 23, 2018.
Syrian refugee children stand next to their family tents at a Syrian refugee camp in the town of Bar Elias, in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, April 23, 2018.

BEIRUT - Syrian refugees in Lebanon are falling deeper into debt, with 2018 being the worst year yet, as more families marry off children to cope financially, according to a U.N. report released Wednesday.

The study by the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR), the World Food Program (WFP) and the U.N. children's fund (UNICEF) stated that the average household debt had increased from $800 in 2016 to more than $1,000 in 2018. 

The Syrian conflict that erupted in 2011 has generated 5.6 million refugees in the Middle East, with Lebanon hosting more than 950,000 registered refugees, according to UNHCR. 

With families struggling to afford food, rent and medicine, child marriage is also on the rise. 

Twenty-nine percent of Syrian girls age 15 to 19 are married in Lebanon, a number that has been growing, according to the report. 

"These findings are a reminder to all of us that the situation for children is becoming more delicate," said Tanya Chapuisat, UNICEF representative, said in the report. "We are seeing refugee families resorting to behaviors that put their children at increasing harmful risks."

About 69 percent of Syrian refugee families in Lebanon are living below the poverty line, and nearly eight out of 10 Syrian kids age 3 to 5 and 15 to 17 are not in school. 

Many children are forced to work, cannot afford transportation or lack the supplies they need to go to school. 

The proportion of Syrian child refugees working in Lebanon has risen to 7 percent from 4 percent in late 2016, according to research by the Danish Refugee Council. 

Shelter conditions have also worsened among Syrian households, and 34 percent now live in non-residential or non-permanent structures, an increase from 26 percent in 2017 according to the report. 

"The study is a poignant reminder of the daily hurdles refugees have to go through just in order to survive," UNHCR Representative in Lebanon Mireille Girard said in the report.